This is the second week of my personal, three week journey through blood and horror. Beginning with a review of the highly anticipated Dead Island, this month started off rather well. If you liken it to a plot in a good B-movie horror flick, this would be around the time we get a twist. Whether it’s a good one will surely depend on your point of view.
While horror films are lauded for their incongruous material, that’s not something you really want to see in a video game. Not when incongruity means poor design, lack of depth and self mutilation. On that note, I have to say I feel my review of BloodRayne: Betrayal is going to hurt me more than it hurts you.
The concept is rather inspiring. Take the unlikely, bloodlusting heroine, Rayne, from the recognizable BloodRayne franchise. Insert her into an old school hack and slash platformer. Then dress it all in bright 2D visuals with generous amounts of gore. Who doesn’t love old school platformers, vampires and furious deluges of blood? You can’t miss. Yet, somehow WayForward did miss. Not only did they miss, they turned the proverbial gun around in an act of self defying trickery and shot themselves in the foot. Never you mind the charming, vapid plot.
The biggest pain point is in the controls. Take the unusual but strangely appropriate metaphor of Swiss cheese that has been left out for a few days; the controls are full of holes and have taken on superfluous, toxic elements. There is no crouch. There is no block. There is only a questionable mechanic that forces you to run forward and quickly change directions to skid, then jump for a high backwards flip.
Let’s save the holes for a second and focus on the skid mechanic. While this skid jump has potential, (showing off some visual flair in character animation) combining it with the way levels are designed only causes the game to work against itself.
Prime example, around the eighth level, Rayne is forced to jump across a series of narrow moving platforms lest she falls and instantly dies in green acid. To up the challenge, WayForward placed acid geysers in between the jumps. It begins to feel like the awesome platformers of old; and it would be enjoyable except for that pesky, mandatory skid. This guarantees that forward momentum will cause Rayne to skid off the platform, fall and die.
It’s not just this skidding that will have the player getting used to her death scream. Raise the marker on this next scene. BloodRayne: Betrayal‘s horrible controls, take two.
The lack of a crouch/block/walk option is sorely missed. WayForward tries to balance this out by giving players the ability to suck an enemy’s blood for health in case Rayne takes damage (given that the particular enemy bleeds). Granted, this could have delivered challenging, strategic gameplay in theory. However, in application it’s ugly and frustrating. Throughout the entire game, enemies and projectiles will come at Rayne from all angles resulting in overcrowding and range issues thus rendering this ability null and void.
There are many times where Rayne will attempt to steal life from an enemy, only to lunge at an adjacent, non-bleeding enemy. Damage taken. When the player just wants to stand and fight, Rayne will be in the middle of a combo on one side of the screen while a dandy vampire ripped straight from the Castlevania franchise on the other side pulls out a gun (block button, wait, no block button?!?). More damage taken.
Rayne is on a moving platform that has reached the top of the screen, soon to descend. She can’t go anywhere because there’s a temporary acid gyser in the way. An illogical rocket is headed straight for her. Crouch would be useful. Instead, the player gets death. It truly is like the game is trying to offer up great gameplay in terms of control scheme, at the same time ruining it by incompatible level and combat design.
BloodRayne: Betrayal, take three. If anything good can be said about the game, it does have clean animation. After playing through all the mire and muck, it can be a delight to see Rayne chomp down on a bad guy, see him wither in her arms; or, during a combination, see heads pop off with spires of blood.
But the delight only goes so far. This is because once you’ve seen an enemy die in a shower of blood, you’ve seen them all. Also, the environments become recycled quickly. The game takes the player through dark forests, a gothic castle, catacombs, etc. all with repetitive backgrounds. In the end it all makes for a trite experience with less than unique platforming.
To top it all off, the game doesn’t provide much replay value. You can collect gems and kill enemies enough for a high score. Then again, in another act of self deprecation, the faulty combat turns this quest into something nearly impossible — points are liberally deducted for missing a kill streak or taking the slightest damage. You can collect red skulls for health and ammo increases … and that’s about it.
If BloodRayne: Betrayal works at all it’s in starts and stops. Honing in on one thing at a time, like the animation, one can arguably find areas that are enjoyable. A platforming section here or there may be fun to play through once. The part where Rayne runs the gauntlet of enemies just before the castle crumbles under her feet can provide hack and slash relief with excessive (in a good way) blood and dismemberment. Put it all together, however, any fun to be had gets lost in a vortex of suck. Pun totally intended.